Golfers to watch for in this year’s Open Championship

The Open Championship will be held at Royal Portrush this week for the first time since 1951, where the biggest names in golf will try to etch their names on the Claret Jug.

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Golfers to watch for in this year’s Open Championship

Brooks Koepka kisses the winning trophy after the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 18, 2017, at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Brooks Koepka kisses the winning trophy after the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 18, 2017, at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

AP

Brooks Koepka kisses the winning trophy after the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 18, 2017, at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

AP

AP

Brooks Koepka kisses the winning trophy after the U.S. Open golf tournament Sunday, June 18, 2017, at Erin Hills in Erin, Wis. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

Pete Mills, Assistant Sports Editor

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Golfers won’t have clear weather in pursuit of the Claret Jug this week.

Links courses are hard enough as it is — long fescue and rolling hills providing problems for golfers. But with constant rain supposed to plague the Northern Ireland coast this weekend, players will need to adapt in order to win the British Open at Royal Portrush.

A winner will have to be crowned. With Tiger Woods back in the spotlight, Brooks Koepka dominating major championship play, and Rory McIlroy returning to Northern Ireland to play in front of his countrymen, there are many favorites to take home the Claret Jug this week. Here are some players to keep an eye on this week.

Brooks Koepka — Koepka has been stone-cold in major championships over the last two years. He’s a clear favorite to take home the Jug this week.

He’s won the last two PGA Championships — his recent victory coming in May at Bethpage Black in New York — and took second in this year’s U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, after winning the event the previous two years. He took second at the Masters in April.

The one real successful tournament appearance that has eluded Koepka is the British Open. His best finish came in 2017, when he finished tied at No. 7, but he has a secret weapon this time around. His caddie, Ricky Elliott, is a Portrush native and local golf legend.

He might not need that kind of help, though: Koepka sits at No. 6 in scoring average on the PGA Tour this year. His iron play has been stellar — he is also No. 6 in greens in regulation percentage this year, which is valuable in links-style play.

But there are intangibles with Koepka that are obvious to the average viewer. He’s tantalizingly focused and stoic on the major championship stage. If his game remains as consistent as it has been, it would be very difficult for other contenders to match him in the big moments.

Justin Rose — Rose has been tapped as a dark horse to win the Open by many oddsmakers this year. The English golfer came up short at Carnoustie in the tournament a year ago, ending the tied for second, so he’s ready for a rebound.

His style of play also matches up very well with Portrush’s conditions. He has sometimes struggled in his driving game, but blustery winds and rain at Portrush this week might take the driver out of the bag for many players this week.

His putting has been some of the best on the PGA Tour this year — he checks in at No. 2 in strokes gained on the green this year. With the weather — and dangerous fescue and terrain of the links course — this could make him dangerous.

Rory McIlroy — The Royal Portrush course record was broken by a 16-year-old Northern Irish golfer in 2005.

This week, Rory McIlroy — now 30 — will try to etch his name on the Jug for the second time in his career, at the same course on which he owns the lowest score ever recorded

This year has been one of his strongest in recent seasons. Although he hasn’t won a major since 2014, he currently sits at No. 3 in the FedEx Cup standings (behind only Koepka and Matt Kuchar) after winning both the RBC Canadian Open and the Players Championship.

He is posting some of the lowest scores on the PGA Tour, as well, and has consistently been a contender in major championships. His 69.13 average scorecard is the second-best on the Tour, allowing him to take home 11 top-10 finishes in only 14 PGA events.

The weather could be McIlroy’s downfall, though. He leads the PGA in driving distance this year with an average of 316 yards. But if the weather is fickle, it could spell trouble. He’ll need to perform above his average on the greens, but McIlroy will surely have the crowds on his side.

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